Although you may have seen the official release of debut children’s book author Erin Broestl back in 2019, I’m adding it to the list of wonderful things happening in 2020.
There are so many aspects of this highly-acclaimed Christian children’s picture book (CPB) that I could blog about it for a month of Sundays. Eventually, I’ll secure an interview with the gifted wordsmith whose — should I call it poetic prose?– seems to speak a language all its own. The making of God Made the Moonlight is the perfect topic for a “Behind the Brush” post. That is, it’s a great example of how illustrations can shape a story. Therefore, I’d like to share a look back at the illustration journey that brought out a second, rather unexpected, meaning to Mrs. Broestl’s God Made the Moonlight.
I can’t believe it’s been three years, but it has. While this is not completely unusual as far as the typical amount of time it takes to bring a new CPB to life, it’s a bit longer than I’m used to. As usually happens in the illustration business, I received the author’s manuscript, nicely-typed, with “illustration notes” next to each block of text. Many, I’d even venture to say most, new authors of children’s books include such notes with their submissions, in varying degrees of details, along side their stories. Erin’s little notes were blessedly few, but she did have some idea of certain colors and other elements she envisioned for her first book. She suggested a sort of genre (fantasy, in this case, “I’m seeing castles, a fairy-tale,”) and even lent me a book with images that she liked.
For almost two years I sketched out scenes of hazy moons and foggy, night-time castle scenes. While there was nothing technically wrong with the watercolor sketches, I suppose, the “meh” feeling I got from them kept me up at night. Since the Broestls had just welcomed a new member to their family, I chanced that Erin might also be awake.
“Erin, would it be ok with you if I rearranged the order of some of your lines?” I texted.
I proposed the idea of using the phases of the moon to guide the sequence of the picture-story that was just beginning to come to life inside my head. (To understand this sequence of events, I highly recommend re-reading your copy of GMtM right now and trying to imagine the text alone on a single sheet of paper.) The verbiage was already there in Broestl’s quiet, charmingly unassuming manuscript:
- Each day, the moon’s shape changes a little.
- Tonight, it looks like the Cheshire Cat’s smile.
- Soon, it will be so dark that I can hardly see it. A new moon!
There were references to car rides, and airplanes, and city lights. And then,
I love the moon! Just knowing that it is there makes me feel at home, no matter where I am.
There it was: the longing, the pull, the emotion, the universal themes of journeying, going out into the unknown with a spirit of adventure, yet yearning for the familiarity of home.
I could see the girl on the page, packing her suitcase, the child being read to asking, “Where is she going?” There is a boy on the next spread: her little brother. They are out of their norm, experiencing things that are all new. They are happy, but sometimes the unfamiliarity of a situation can be a little scary.
How blessed I am to work with such a gifted writer as my friend, Erin Broestl! And I’m so thankful that she was open to listening to my new “vision” of GMtM. I sketched out, verbally and on paper, my ideas for a “subplot” to the revised manuscript. The images came to me more easily now, and I worked with a clearer goal in mind. Erin and I collaborated, filled with a new energy. Over the next months I painted, adjusted, and sometimes even deleted new spreads of artworks. (Here’s a deleted scene from the storyboard before we had the full new story worked out:)
This one’s Erin’s favorite (it made the cut):
“It’s like you saw inside my mind,” says Broestl, who recalls a family trip from her childhood. Believe me, it is a rare thing when an illustrator can actually see what the author “has in mind” for the proposed manuscript. And I assured Erin that this was just a coincidence! I’ve since said this, so many times, to so many children’s book authors:
“An illustrator’s happiest clients are the ones who, when it comes to the artwork, completely hand over the reins to the artist.”
The simple truth is that, no, the illustrator cannot see inside the author’s mind. The more details the author has already conjured up in his or her mind about the way each page “should” look, the more that author is setting himself/herself up for disappointment with almost any illustrator’s work. Please see my post on “How to prepare a children’s book manuscript for your illustrator.”
Mrs. Erin Broestl is one amazing woman, folks. She blogs at Eight Hobbits. Although God Made the Moonlight is Broestl’s first published children’s book, she’s no stranger to the writing industry. I’ve no doubt we can expect more great volumes from Erin.